Brown grad still making impact on the field
It was an interesting summer for Richmond defensive coordinator Bob Trott, speaking at A.L. Brown’s graduation and then coaching on the Team USA 19-under football team that traveled to Kuwait and beat Canada for the gold medal.
“You play at 11 at night in Kuwait,” Trott said with a laugh. “That’s when it cools off to 99 degrees.”
Trott, 60, goes by Bob now. It’s hard not to think of him as Bobby Trott, an over-achieving safety at North Carolina in the 1970s and an inspiration to 5-foot-9 walk-ons everywhere.
Trott was a good player at A.L. Brown. As a senior DB, he made the 1971 All-South Piedmont Conference team. That was a turnaround season in which new coach Will Campagna, a Catawba graduate, lifted A.L. Brown to a 6-2 league record and the Wonders shared the SPC title with Salisbury.
“We were still the Little Wonders then, and I’ve gone through life trying to explain what a Little Wonder is,” Trott said. “Coach Campagna instilled confidence in us. We beat Salisbury when they were really tough, and that was big. Then we beat Concord, and that was as big as it got. We hadn’t beaten Concord in 10 years.”
That 1971 Battle for the Bell was immortalized by a well-timed picture. As the Spiders wheeled the Victory Bell across the field to the celebrating Wonders, a Concord cheerleader in the vanguard of the unhappy procession offered a one-fingered salute to the victors. It was not the index, ring, pinkie or thumb.
Little Wonders still treasure that photo.
“That picture was always hanging in the coach’s office at Brown, and a few years ago, I asked Coach (Mike) Newsome where the picture was,” Trott said. “He said, ‘What picture?’ But someone brought it back. Last time I was there, it was on his wall.”
Trott’s high school career ended with a fierce 13-10 loss to Salisbury in the Western N.C. High School Activities Association playoffs.
Trott weighed 165 pounds, so colleges weren’t exactly beating down his door for his services.
“I’d gotten some recruiting letters — but no offers,” he said.
Still, he knew he wanted to go to North Carolina. He received a Cannon Scholarship that would pay most of his expenses. He was set to go to class and study business, but he wasn’t ready to give up football.
“I just really wanted to play,” he said. “I got lucky. The breaks fell my way.”
He walked on and made the freshman team. He was first noticed as a guy who might contribute by DBs coach Bill Hickman.
“My freshman year Carolina went 11-1 and the freshman DBs were on the scout team,” Trott said. “We ran pass patterns against the varsity DBs. I practiced with them right up to Christmas Eve. Then they went to a bowl game (Sun Bowl), and I went home.”
By the time he was a sophomore, head coach Bill Dooley knew about Trott. He was second on the depth chart.
“I actually got my first scholarship offer after my sophomore season,” Trott said. “It was from Carson-Newman. But at that point, I’d started two games for Carolina.”
Trott was a starting safety for the Tar Heels as a junior and senior. A highlight was an interception that was instrumental in beating Duke. A lowlight was a missed tackle as the last line of defense in a heartbreaking loss to Notre Dame. That was in the 1975 game in which unknown Notre Dame backup QB Joe Montana became a star.
The games with N.C. State are the ones he remembers. That was an era when Lou Holtz was coaching the Wolfpack to numerous victories, and the Wolfpack’s Buckey twins were Sports Illustrated cover boys.
“The traditional rival for us was supposed to be Duke, but I only knew one person at Duke and that was a high school classmate studying to be a minister,” Trott said. “But I knew a whole lot of people at N.C. State. The guys at N.C. State were like us — not rich enough or smart enough to go to Duke. Our games with N.C. State were huge. We went 2-2 against them.”
Trott made the All-ACC academic team. He was a team captain his senior season.
Trott earned a business degree, but Dooley gave him an opportunity to serve as a graduate assistant for the Tar Heels, and that’s where his coaching career started.
It’s never stopped. He’s been everywhere as an assistant — Air Force, Arkansas, and then Clemson, all with head coach Ken Hatfield. There was a season when he was coordinator at Clemson that the Tigers led the nation in total defense.
“My first year at Air Force was tough, and I remember Bill Parcells told me I was lucky to be losing to start with.” Trott said. “He told me that would make me appreciate it when we started winning — and he was right.”
Hatfield is the guy who figured out that to compete the service academies needed to run the option — and he brought in coaches such as Fisher DeBerry who got it done.
“Hatfield knew we had to do something different and do it better than anyone else,” Trott said.
Trott moved on to the NFL and spent five years with the New York Giants and New England Patriots. After that came defensive coordinator stints at Duke, Baylor and Louisana-Monroe. He coached with the Cleveland Browns for four years before he returned to college to Virginia.
From there, he went to Richmond. He’s been the Spiders’ defensive coordinator since 2010.
Along the way, Trott found time to earn a masters degree in education, and he and wife Barbara. also from Kannapolis, raised three children.
Trott has coached or played in 12 bowl games. The question he gets asked most frequently is does he prefer college coaching to the NFL. The basic answer is yes.
“The NFL is seven days a week for six months a year,” he said. “The only time I ever slept in my office was working in the NFL. You’ve got worries both places. When you’re coaching in college, you worry about the players going to class.”
Trott still enjoys what he’s doing and has no plans to retire. His inspiration is Pittsburgh Steelers defensive coordinator Dick Lebeau who just turned 77.
“As a coach, some days you’re a psychologist, some days you’re a salesman, some days you’re a guidance counselor, and some days you’re a teacher,” Trott said. “I enjoy it. What else would I do?”
Trott is still proud of the milltown where he grew up, even though it’s not a milltown anymore.
“It’s always good to get back there,” he said. “I’m glad Kannapolis has survived.”
Follow Mike London on Twitter at @mikelondonpost3.